Monday, June 23, 2008

We Are Way Beyond Celebrating Citizen Journalists

When I studied the program for the Personal Democracy Forum 2008, I was thrilled to see, for the first time ever, luminaries from both the media and advocacy world sharing the spotlight. That people like Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis would appear on the same program as Liza Sabater and Alan Rosenblatt signaled to me that the two worlds of media and advocacy are truly converging -- great news for our democracy. Today was the first day of the two-day event, and to my dismay, the media crowd seemed to be stuck in 2005, when thumbing one's nose at the MSM and celebrating the rise of bloggers and "citizen journalists" was the order of the day. Why would they think these ideas add anything new to the conversation at a conference that has grown to such prominence precisely because of these developments?

Hasn't the media conversation moved way past defending citizen journalists, or even celebrating them? Haven't we finally made peace with mainstream media and accepted our dependence on their role in collecting news and driving the national conversation? Isn't it time to turn our attentions to how we can fill the gaping holes of information that yet grow bigger as newsrooms cut staff -- gaping holes that, like the hole in the ozone layer, have consequences as dire for our democracy as the loss of ozone has for our earth?

When I left the media-technology world and joined the advocacy world in late 2006, I was eager to see how people and organizations that spend their days working to make the world a better place would use the power of the Internet to advance their work. It was clear to me that as the definition of "journalism" evolved and expanded to include independent voices outside mainstream media, the center of information must eventually shift to this world. Newsrooms are increasingly unable or unwilling to fund reporting around more expertise-dependent, specialized news (like science, or human rights or even workplace laws) that are critical to a well-informed democratic society. Meanwhile, advocacy organizations are home to issue experts who should be the obvious natural heirs to the endangered species of beat journalists.

From the advocacy world, we see true thought leaders encouraging advocacy organizations to speak up, to take their place in the pantheon of content producers that provide the information needed to nourish our political system. From the media side, however, putative thought leaders are either patronizing in how they think the advocacy world just doesn't get We Media yet, or are happy to dwell on the tired ideas on which they made their names whenever they think they've found a new audience who hasn't yet heard their spiel. Instead of celebrating the Mayhill Fowlers of this election, positive but these days hardly unusual signals of the health of citizen journalism, it's time for media thought leaders to truly look forward and lead our thinking. At a forum like PDF, it means recognizing and encouraging those who can speak in depth about issues like health care, the environment and the Middle East, who hold the keys to the knowledge our democracy depends on. It's time for media thought leaders to survey the information landscape and do their part in awakening the voices we really need.

No comments: